What is wyrd, and how can we understand its warp and weft to navigate life more skillfully? Therapist and author Matthew Ash McKernan shares wisdom.
Matthew Ash McKernan, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, ecotherapist, bard, naturalist, and wyrdworker. He has degrees in anthropology and counseling psychology and loves to spend time at the crossroads where psyche, nature, healing, and magic intersect.
Weaving his skills in both healing magic and psychotherapy, McKernan offers readers a moving primer for the Germanic pagan concept of wyrd, described as “a mysterious web of being that connects everything.” Wyrdcraft offers both magical musings and practical therapeutic exercises to get more in touch with the wyrd.
Our review of Wyrdcraft is featured in the January/February 2023 issue of Spirituality + Health.
S+H: Toward the end of Wyrdcraft, you warn us that once this book is opened, it will never close. What was your point of no return with the practice of wyrdcraft? When did you know in your soul that this would be your mission?
McKernan: I have had the felt sense of being pushed, pulled, and called by something as far back as I can remember. This feeling, which I would later come to know as the call of the Fates and the ways of wyrd, has guided me toward all the meaningful and purposeful encounters, paths, crossroads, concepts, people, challenges, fears, and realizations that I needed, as well as to many points of no return (falling out of a second story window as a toddler; the first time I took magic mushrooms; and taking on loads of student loans to become a counselor—just to name a few).
It wasn’t until I came across the concept of wyrd, perhaps for the third, sixth, or ninth time—just at that synchronistic, mercurial-magical right time—almost two decades after that first mushroom journey, that I saw a clearer picture of what my mission was and how it could play out. In that moment, much more than the usual amount clicked; I remembered and re-membered. Everything came together into one wild and wonderful flowing braided web. Welcome wyrd!
For people who may be initially skeptical of the concept of wyrd, can you offer any wisdom or ways to connect with the concept?
Skepticism is a natural response to wyrd. Both wyrd and weird are words that have historically pointed, and still do point, to the unknown—something humanity has been reacting to with a paradoxical admixture of skepticism, fear, curiosity, and wonder—since time immemorial. There is good reason for this. The journey into the unknown is a path of change, and certainly a path of sacrifice. Better to avoid it altogether. Easier to come up with an array of rationalizations, judgments, and distractions to put direct experiential worldview-changing and world-changing revelation and sacrifice off for another day.
This doesn’t mean we aren’t also intuitively drawn toward the unknown like a moth to light, for we certainly are. Wyrd is fate and destiny; it is also nature, soul, magic and more. Wyrd’s revelation, healing-transformation, and becoming is inevitable; it is as natural and as visible as the changing of the seasons, and as real as breathing. Deep down we feel this and know this, and we yearn to know and feel this more clearly.
There are many ways to connect with wyrd, but perhaps the most important one is to be aware. Wyrd permeates mind-body-relationship-environment-soul-spirit. As you do your best to bring more and more sustained awareness to each of these domains (through meditation, contemplation, psychotherapy, ritual, time in nature, mindful relationships, and a plethora of other ways—many of which I explore in the book), you will be attuning to and communing with wyrd. Put your skepticism to good use; let it fuel and inform your exploration. Bring as much awareness as you can to your life, your ways, and your experiences. Ask yourself what these experiences and insights might be revealing about your fate, destiny, nature, soul, magic, and process of becoming. Explore weirdness. And if possible, process your explorations with a therapist, elder, or trusted guide.
One of the many gems in this book is the lexicon you assembled to evoke and bring structure to wyrd. Can you tell us more about why modern English so often feels inadequate for writing about the concept?
I think the Old English wyrd and modern English weird describe the nature of being-consciousness-existence quite adequately and accurately. I’m sure many would agree that the process of awakening to the nature of things—as well as that “thing” unto which one awakens—is weird (strange, bizarre, different, fantastical) and wyrd (magical, soulful, natural, fated, and destined to be). It does seem that words, no matter which language from whence they come, can only take one so far down the path of understanding the great Mystery—though perhaps seed-syllables like OM, HRIM, HU, and IO may bring one much closer.
Mercury (a.k.a. Hermes/Thoth/Odin)—otherwise known as the divinity associated with words, language, communication, transaction, magic, and soul-travel, amongst other things—is the closest planetary body to the Sun. This tells me that communication, in whatever form it may take—be it verbal, nonverbal, written, artistic, magical, or energetic—connects us to Source. Mercury’s position between us here on Earth and the Sun tells me that communication is necessary if one wishes to commune with, and return to, Source. In other words, as psychopomp and magician, Mercury (as language, words, concepts, etc.) transports us and transforms us; Mercury/Hermes/Odin shapeshifts as we shapeshift as reality shapeshifts—in unison—into that which is ultimately wordless and nameless. What could be weirder than that?
As the Buddha taught, you can build a raft to cross the river, but you have to leave it behind if you wish to keep going onward. Words can only take one so far into the mystery before they too—along with everything else—must be offered unto the sacrificial fire of being and becoming. Until then, words can be very helpful. Words—like the ones I use in Wyrdcraft, such as flow, frith, gestalt, psyche, individuation, integration, and shadow—are like guides, cairns (which are sacred to Hermes), signposts, tools, and chariots. They are shapeshifting technologies, which can bring us closer to and deeper into the Mystery.
Related to lexicon, you teach readers about “eudaimonia,” a feeling you define as a “deep state of wellbeing that comes from living a life imbued with meaning and purpose.” Tell us about our relationship to eudaimonia at this moment in history.
The essence of eudaimonia—a beautiful, magical word—can be gleaned from its etymology (eu meaning “goodness” or “wellness” and daimon meaning roughly “guiding spirit”). In this sense, eudaimonia can be thought of as the feeling which accompanies the revelation of one’s true inner essence or spirit—and its purpose.
Though I’m grossly oversimplifying, eudaimonia is an ancient Greek word that describes a deep experience of wellbeing that results from living a soulful life. Put in another way, eudaimonia is the result of being “in the flow.” How many people in your life, and in our world, experiences the eudaimonic wellbeing of soulfulness? If you take a good look around the world, you can see that many people do not.
To me, this means that the soul which connects everything, imbues everything, and reveals within everything a deep sense of meaning, purpose, and magic has been forgotten. In other words, animism has been forgotten. Thankfully, there are many ways to treat this existential illness of soul-loss and soul-amnesia and the symptoms that issue forth as a result, such as anxiety, paranoia, addiction, narcissism, abuse, and oppression. There are many ways to turn toward the soul of the world and each other and heal the many wounds that have occurred as a result of the loss of animism.
"There are many ways to turn toward the soul of the world and each other and heal the many wounds that have occurred as a result of the loss of animism."
Psychotherapy and its many forms, ecotherapy and its many forms, and magical study and its many forms are just a few examples I explore in Wyrdcraft. Engaging in any of these ways will help guide one into the experience of eudaimonia—back into the guiding light and flow of one’s inner spiritual being and becoming.
You write that each person has their own wyrd, and wyrds are interwoven in each relationship. Can you tell us more about how you apply wyrd to your marriage and family therapy practice?
To clarify, marriage and family therapists are not confined to work within the realm of marriage and family; we’re trained to work with individuals, couples, polycules, elders, children, and others suffering from a wide range of symptoms of mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual dis-ease.
One of the ways to think about wyrd is as a web, tapestry, or braid composed of myriad interweaving threads that create a pattern. This transpersonal pattern is the Web of Wyrd—the great tapestry of being-consciousness-existence that is the interweaving of mind-body-relationship-environment-soul-spirit—all of which is in a mysterious process of becoming. Everything and everyone is in relationship with everything and everyone else within this wyrd pattern and process, and it can all be explored.
Psychotherapy, or as I like to call it and practice it, psychetherapy (soul-therapy), provides a powerful ritual container for this process of locating, exploring, processing, and crafting of wyrd within every domain. This process is holistically revealing, healing, and transformative. As such, it is simply and powerfully magic.
Bring your awareness to wyrd and you will invariably reveal your (and our) wounds, blocks, and hidden potentials. This is a wonderful yet sometimes painfully sobering experience which reveals that our troubles, problems, issues, and wounds are blessings in disguise. They are guides, showing us what we need to focus on and work toward healing. And as we do this work, we will slowly but surely uncover our gifts, meaning, purpose, and soul—all that has been hidden behind the veils of our wounds, blocks, and delusions.
All this being said, one needn’t use the word wyrd or refer to the concept of wyrd in therapy to do the work of wyrdcraft. Any psychotherapeutic approach could be considered the crafting of wyrd, though I do have my favorites.
You meet yourself from twenty years ago. Does this version of you have the tools he needed to connect with wyrd? What advice would you give him?
It was twenty years ago when I fully and wholly met the wyrd, and though the experience was wildly overwhelming and took years to integrate, strangely, yes, I had all the tools I needed for what I needed to do at the time. Which doesn’t mean it was easy, for it surely hasn’t been.
Wyrd’s flow has a way of bringing one right to one’s growing edge—that place where safety and challenge meet in an alchemical, homeostatic dance of being and becoming. I have felt called to live my life on this edge.
That being said, if I were to give my 23-year-old self any advice, it would be: find a good psychotherapist and massage therapist, exercise more, and drink more water. Other than that, I would give myself the same advice I give myself and others daily, something to the effect of… getting lost, falling down, acting the fool, and failing are all a part of the process. They are gifts in disguise. Trust in the process, be kind to yourself and others, and never give up. We are doing something very magical and mysterious together; everybody is doing their best and can and will do better. Your light, our light, is beautiful. Let it shine, and just be your weird, wonderful, loving self.
Read our review of Wyrdcraft here.